France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Palestine
From Palestinian-British filmmaker Saeed Taji Farouky, A THOUSAND FIRES is a portrait of a family in flux, and a story of intergenerational conflict and compromise. It is a film of transient moments; of hopes and aspirations; of faith in the forces of karma and luck; of a place, a community, and the rhythms of a day to day; of lingering memories and a turbulent past; and of life persisting, regardless.
This reflects my approach to filmmaking: working very closely with the people I film, emphasising mutual respect, mutual benefit, and learning from them. In this, I am eternally indebted to the two Burmese assistant directors: Joshua Min Htut (the subject of the Oscar-nominated BURMA VJ) and Than Win Han, who were there filming for over 4 years, crafting the story with me.
With this film, I want to explore the human aspects of the oil industry. As a child growing up in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, global oil trade was at the centre of my world. I was surrounded by the money and mythology of oil; a creature with tentacles reaching across the globe. This is the oil industry that most people are familiar with, and it dominates every aspect of our lives. It creates and destroys. It brings countries unimaginable wealth, and decimates them. I wanted to get beyond the abstraction of “the industry” and examine the point where oil is intimately connected with the human body; where one person reaches into the ground and touches, with their bare hands, the remnants of tens of millions of years of organic decomposition.
This is a vertical film, like the construction of the oil wells, digging deeper rather than zooming out, emphasising miniscule detail over epic narrative. It’s a tale, inspired by the folklore and mythology of Burma: a family going about their daily lives in a slow-moving world of luck, fate, karma, astrology, and dragons, where everything influences everything else and is influenced by millennia of past lives. Above all, the film is about cycles, constantly ending and beginning again. A well is born, bled dry and abandoned, and a new one is dug. Oil is collected, poured into an engine, and the drilling continues. A father worries about his son, then the son grows up and worries about his ageing father. Life, death, and rebirth.
It was during the making of this film that I finally understood that, for the most part, even though my parents made mistakes, they acted with the best intentions. Thus the film is dedicated to them. As the film was nearing completion, the Burmese military staged a violent coup and began a new campaign of repression and killing. At the same time, the Palestinian people faced yet another onslaught with increasingly violent attempts to dispossess them and kill their spirit. This film is for the brave people of Burma and Palestine fighting for their liberation and dignity.
His previous documentary, TELL SPRING NOT TO COME THIS YEAR, premiered at the Berlinale in 2015 where it won the Panorama Audience Award and the Amnesty Human Rights Award.
His films focus on exile and the lingering trauma of conflict. He tells intimate, personal stories with an emphasis on humanism, and its mirror image: surrealism. Saeed participated in the Edinburgh International Film Festival talent lab and the Torino Script Lab with his first fiction feature project.
2021 - A THOUSAND FIRES, Documentary
2015 - TELL SPRING NOT TO COME THIS YEAR, Documentary
Cast & Crew
Directed by: Saeed Taji Farouky
Written by: Saeed Taji Farouky
Produced by: Estelle Robin You, Palmyre Badinier, Joram Willink
Cinematography: Saeed Taji Farouky
Editing: Catherine Rascon
Original Score: Fatima Dunn
Sound: James Bulley
Nominations and Awards
- Documentary Selection 2022